Robert B. Evans

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Robert B. Evans
Robert B Evans AMC PR picture.jpg
Born (1906-03-29)March 29, 1906
Richmond, Virginia
Died August 17, 1998(1998-08-17) (aged 92)
Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Michigan

Robert Beverley Evans, Sr. (March 19, 1906 – August 17, 1998) was an automobile industry executive, a prominent Republican, an industrialist, a socialite, and an avid sportsperson.[1] He founded Evans Industries and also became chairman of American Motors Corporation (AMC).[2]

Career[edit]

Evans was born in Richmond, Virginia, and graduated from the Virginia Episcopal School, The University of Lauzon, and the University of Michigan.[1]

As an entrepreneur, Evans became an owner a many companies with combined annual sales of US$20 million by the 1960s, but entrusted most business affairs to underlings.[2] Instead, Evans focused his efforts on hobbies as golf, quail hunting, and designing and racing a hydroplane.[2] He built a jet-powered hydroplane in 1960 with the goal to capture the world's water speed record that was held by Donald Campbell.[3] He was determined to succeed even when his boat, "Miss Stars and Stripes II", crashed during a speed attempt.[4]

Evans described himself in a New York Times interview as a relaxed Detroit millionaire who has spent 35 years specializing in the reconstruction of "sick companies."[5]

American Motors[edit]

Investors received AMC's annual report that reported significant losses in a plain brown envelope and Evans was called by Donald MacDonald, "a little- known Detroit healer of sick companies."[6][7] Over a few weeks during January 1966, the sixty-year-old Evans[8] bought 200,000 shares of AMC common stock[9] (worth almost US$2 million[10] or about $14,537,436 in 2014 dollars [11]). He became the firm's largest shareholder,[12] with ownership of about 1% of the company.[13]

Evans had no automobile industry experience, but "he had a reputation for success and for getting things done."[13] On March 7, 1966, Evans got himself elected to AMC's board of directors and "immediately criticized the company's auto line as being too conservative."[14] As sales of automobiles were weak industry-wide during 1966 and AMC was facing major losses, Evans was elected board chairman by AMC's directors on June 6, 1966.[15] He replaced Richard E. Cross, who continued as a director and chairman of the executive committee.

As the newly appointed board chairman of AMC, Evans immediately promised "a different philosophy and approach" in the automaker's affairs.[16] Unlike the then existing management at AMC, Evans freely criticized the leadership under George W. Romney "for failing to adjust to a changing market" and started to "shake things up in Kenosha" as solutions to the automaker's problems.[6]

Evans is credited with turning the company around from the strategy of matching the Big Three American automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) nearly model for model that was promoted by Roy Abernethy. American Motors' struggled during 1966, a year that was considered to be "the biggest auto boom in history" and was counting on its redesigned 1967 models; however, Evans admitted one month before their introduction that "we are still very much in a questionable period."[17]

1968 AMC Board of Directors around an AMX-GT with Evans in the back row, fourth from the left

It was Evans who brought on the major changes by handpicking Roy D. Chapin Jr. as AMC's general manager. Evans was always encouraging the styling and engineering staffs do things differently - to try new ideas and find new ways to design and build cars.[18] Evans even dropped hints that the automaker may try to compete with Volkswagen in the small-car field and stated that "We have to give the public cars that go beyond what the 'big three' gives them."[19] In addition to stating that AMC's standard line of cars need to be as good or better than those offered by the bigger automakers, Evans emphasized developing "Personality cars" to attract and excite market segments, particularly the youth.[13]

Evans is credited as the champion for AMC to build a production versions of the concept cars that made up the "Project IV" showings designed to stimulate public interest in the automaker.[20] Evans was particularly fond of the two-seat Vignale AMX show car that was smaller than the Ford Mustang and more like a Chevrolet Corvette rival, promoting for its production to all that he could.[21] This was at a time when the automaker experienced falling earnings and had to skip the dividend payments to its shareholders for the fourth consecutive quarter.[22]

Evans saw opportunities for sporty AMC cars in the rapidly growing more youthful consumer market segments,[23] as well as to shed its "economy-car image."[20] The original idea of a two-passenger-only, high-performance sports car project came to life with Evans in the fall of 1966.[24] He stated that AMC is proceeding "cautiously in a hurry."[25] For example, the automaker was deliberating whether to build the AMX in fiberglass or steel; with metal taking longer to tool, but volume would be higher.[25]

On January 9, 1967, a contentious AMC board of directors meeting resulted in the firing or "early retirement" of Abernethy, as well as with the "resignation" of Evans as Chairman of the Board.[26] The two were replaced by William V. Luneburg as President and Roy D. Chapin Jr. as the new Chairman of the Board.[27] Evans continued as a board member.

Retirement[edit]

During May 1970, Evans sold half of his holdings in AMC (100,000 shares).[28] Evans sold 44,000 of his AMC shares in 1971 while continuing to serve as a director and member of the finance committee.[29]

In 1971, Evans purchased the Muskegon Bank and Trust Company in Muskegon, Michigan from the so-called "Parsons Group".[30]

He died at his residence in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. He was survived by his two children, Jane Evans Jones and Robert B. Evans, Jr.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Paid Notice: Deaths Evans, Robert B., Sr.". The New York Times. 20 August 1998. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "American Motors' New Gospel". Time. 17 June 1966. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Lovejoy, Clarence E. (9 December 1960). "Speed Mark Is Target; Evans, Detroit Sportsman, Expects to Top 260 M.P.H. in Jet Hydroplane". The New York Times. p. 44. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Boat Owner Willing to Continue Bid Despite Crash". The New York Times. 18 May 1963. p. 63. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Rugaber, Walter (6 March 1966). "Personality: Investor With Rx for Rambler; Evans Is Expected to Join the Board of American Motors, Big Stockholder Has Ideas for Building Company's Profit". The New York Times. p. F3. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Mueller, Mike (1997). Motor City Muscle: The High-Powered History of the American Muscle Car. MBI Publishing. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-7603-0196-8. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  7. ^ MacDonald, Donald (1980). Detroit, 1985. Doubleday. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  8. ^ Hyde, Charles K. (2009). Storied independent automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors. Wayne State University Press. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-8143-3446-1. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "Detroit Millionaire Purchasing American Motors Corp. Stock". The New York Times. 29 January 1966. p. 31. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "Autos, 1966: "No way but up"". Newsweek 67: 171. 1966. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  12. ^ "A Long Way to Turn". Time. 2 December 1966. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c Foster, Patrick R. (2013). American Motors: The Rise and Fall of America's Last Independent Automaker. Motorbooks. p. 91. ISBN 9780760344255. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Industrialist Joins Board of Rambler". The New York Times. 8 March 1966. p. 49. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Rugaber, Walter (7 June 1966). "American Motors Corp. Board Elects Evans as Its Chairman; Detroit Industrialist Chosen to Succeed Cross in Post Following Resignation". The New York Times. p. 63. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Rugaber, Walter (8 June 1966). "New Rambler Look Promised By Evans; Evans Promises Rambler Change". The New York Times. p. 87. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "American Motors Looks to 1967's; Evans, New Chairman, Pins His Hopes on Changes". The New York Times. 28 August 1966. p. 127. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  18. ^ Brownell, Dave. "1968 AMX 390". Hemmings Motor News Archives. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  19. ^ Irwin, Robert W. (September 1966). "Detroit Listening Post". Popular Mechanics 126 (3): 30. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  20. ^ a b Carlson, Walter (21 June 1966). "Advertising: 'Idea' Cars and an Old Image". The New York Times. p. 67. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  21. ^ Cranswick, Marc (2011). The Cars of American Motors: An Illustrated History. McFarland. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-7864-4672-8. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  22. ^ "American Motors Skips a Dividend; Quarterly Payment Omitted for the Fourth Time Earnings Off Sharply". The New York Times. 2 August 1966. p. 53. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  23. ^ Hofmann, Paul (11 January 1967). "A Younger Management At Rambler Maker; Rambler Maker Accenting Youth". The New York Times. p. 65. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  24. ^ Mitchell, Larry G. (2000). AMC muscle cars. MBI Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7603-0761-8. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  25. ^ a b Irwin, Robert W. (October 1966). "Detroit Listening Post". Popular Mechanics 126 (4): 40. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  26. ^ "American Motors Picks Chapin For Chief as 2 Men Step Down; Evans and Abernethy Drop Out of Management Team Luneburg Is President". The New York Times. 10 January 1967. p. 53. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  27. ^ "Quick Wash". Time. 20 January 1967. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  28. ^ Flint, Jerry M. (4 August 1970). "American Motors has 3-month Loss; Deficit in Fiscal 3d Quarter $14.1-Million, Industry's Car Sales Fell in July". The New York Times. p. 39. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  29. ^ "Insiders' Stockholdings". The New York Times. 18 March 1971. p. 53. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  30. ^ "Muskegon Mich., Bank Sale Is 9th by Parsons Group". The New York Times. 2 January 1971. p. 27. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
Business positions
Preceded by
Richard E. Cross
American Motors Board of Directors Chairman
1966 – 1967
Succeeded by
Roy D. Chapin, Jr.